Nightstream 2020: ‘Anything for Jackson’ Review: Grief, Grandparents, and A Few Too Many Demons

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Grandparents are known to spoil their grandchildren. This typically constitutes giving gifts or baking cookies, but in Anything for Jackson, a Canadian production directed by Justin Dyck and written by Keith Cooper, it apparently also includes making deals with the devil.

Audrey and Henry Walsh (Sheila McCarthy and Julian Richings) are an elderly couple grieving the loss of their grandson, Jackson. Jackson died in a car accident that also claimed the life of their daughter, and they are unable to live without him. Thus, they plan to perform a “reverse exorcism”: imbuing the spirit of Jackson into the unborn child of one of Henry’s patients at his medical practice, Shannon Becker (Konstantina Mantelos). But like anything else, the devil is in the details, and it seems the Walshes do not have as good of a grip on the ghosts they are letting into their home as they think.

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This grieving couple spares no expense to try to bring their grandchild back — kidnapping and Satanic rites are not too much for them. Audrey and Henry hold Shannon hostage in a soundproof room, and later they don black cloaks, light candles, and join a group hailing Satan and pledging themselves to the devil. Audrey arms herself with an ancient codex and practices blood rituals to resurrect dead animals, and Dyck leans into the black comedy of Cooper’s script and allows the utter absurdity of the premise to take on its full form along its unpredictable ride.

Yet this is not a full-blown horror-comedy, for there are moments of savage violence as well as vicious emotional pain. Flashbacks show Shannon learning with horror that she is pregnant, and she is troubled by the prospect of impending motherhood; Audrey is haunted by her deceased daughter, who dressed up as a ghost each year for Halloween and whose spirit keeps showing up at the door.

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Some of the phone graphics, especially shots of dating apps and social media, can look a bit cheesy, and a few supporting characters such as Detective Bellows (Lanette Ware), Satanist Ian (Josh Cruddas), or Rory (Yannick Bisson) — who insists on plowing their driveway but grows increasingly ominous — come across as slightly one-dimensional. Yet Dyck and Cooper do some re-inventing of the exorcism genre, and trying to bring Jackson back from the dead makes way for a revolving door of demons. They do astonishing work creating creepy ambiance and working with outstanding practical effects. There are numerous twists and turns as Shannon offers herself to serve as a mother figure for Jackson, and we continually wonder where the true evil lies.

At its simplest, this is a story of the horrors of the loss of a child, as well as a cautionary tale about privilege. Audrey and Henry are rich white people pushed to their limits by overwhelming grief. But there are simply some things money cannot buy, no matter how hard they try. The film raises a sharp critique of privilege and which lives are worth prioritizing versus which lives are disposable in service of others. The antagonists have few qualms about trying to exploit others to help themselves: they are willing to do anything, consequences be damned, for the ones they love — including going to hell and back again. “No one has more time than a grieving family,” says Audrey, and no one has more money or ruthlessness than these grandparents. But no one has more trouble with the demonic collateral damage, either.

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